Manna from pop heaven

Jungle’s third album takes the UK-based duo to a new level

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Anna Victoria Best

When Tom McFarland is touring in the States, he likes to “dip back into the American classics,” listening to Simon & Garfunkel when he’s in Manhattan, “basically transporting myself back to ’70s New York.”

“Now I’m in Toronto,” he says over a Zoom interview, “so this afternoon I’ll put on some Neil Young and walk the streets.”

If you listen closely to the music McFarland makes with Josh Llyod-Watson as the disco-inflected electro-pop duo Jungle, you can hear the matrix of influences: gentle falsettos call back to Paul and Art; their penchant for dreamy melodies stem from hours and hours dissecting Pet Sounds as children growing up in West London; bouncing basslines over pensive organ chords evoke the Brit Pop wave that washed over the world in the mid-90s; police sirens over Studio 54-inspired grooves capture the aughts’ dance zeitgeist of Moby and The Chemical Brothers. 

When the lads broke into the scene in 2014 with their bedroom-produced, self-titled debut, the world instantly fell in love with Jungle’s warm, carefree sound, propelled further by single-shot videos featuring a recurring cast of divinely diverse West London choreographers—but never McFarland and Lloyd-Watson. That hint of mystery, combined with those slinky bass lines and cooing vocals, was manna from pop heaven, and the world ate hungrily. Before long it was off to the races for Jungle: South by Southwest, American late night, Reading, Leeds, Glastonbury, shortlisted for the Mercury Prize. 

It was four years before they released their sophomore album, For Ever, a slightly more somber affair that seemed to acknowledge the altitude sickness of such a meteoric rise to prominence with tracks like “House in LA”:

I feel alive in the sunlight / All my fears are only real life / Two whole years on the rewrite / Tell my friends I’m gonna be right there.”

“I think in the second record we were like, ‘It’s got to be about us,’” McFarland says. “It was the most personal and emotional [collection of] songs that we’ve ever written, and it took a long time to find the words in order to tell that story properly. It’s about Josh being in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and me being back in London, and then a breakup and Josh coming home. There’s multiple layers of loss, grief, yearning, jealousy. Those songs are so dipped in deep, dark emotion that sometimes playing them on stage just doesn’t feel right. We still play songs like ‘Pray’ or ‘Cherry’ because they just seem to fit within kind of the most recent incarnation of what we perceive Jungle to be. And maybe it is a little bit more carefree and a little bit less emotional. But like this third record is a bit more about getting back to having some fun and not taking it too seriously.”

But it’s clear the pair took their third offering, Loving In Stereo, quite seriously: The album is the clearest distillation yet of Jungle’s vision, remaining true to their dance-focused origins while artfully showcasing the duo’s eclectic tastes. The refreshed sound is due in part to the band’s decision to release on its own imprint, Caiola Records, and in part to the evolution of McFarland and Lloyd-Watson as musicians.

“The more albums you make, the better you get at making them,” McFarland says. “And I think we’ve finally got to a place in our careers where we have the tools available to us and the confidence with which to implement those tools to their maximum capacity in order to fully realize our vision. When we were making our first album in Josh’s bedroom we had all these amazing ideas, but we didn’t have the musical language to say that with. Now the music actually sounds like what we want it to sound like.”

It’s true, though, that this album demands listeners let go of their worries, at least for the next 40 minutes, kicking off with the linked tracks “Dry Your Tears” and “Keep Moving.”

As with Jungle’s previous bodies of work, Loving In Stereo will get single-shot video treatments featuring the same cast of choreographers, but this time for all 14 tracks on the record, shot over a five-day period. 

“I think essentially, we’re very conceptual thinkers,” McFarland says. “Some of the bands that we actually love the most are the ones that have continued conceptual themes like Daft Punk, Justice, Bon Iver to an extent, The Strokes to an extent . . . We always love listening to concept albums, like Dark Side of the Moon, Pet Sounds, all of those records and everything about those records just screams artistry and theater and passion and dedication. I think we never . . . we never want to present anything to the public that isn’t whole and complete.”